Robot -- Film Review

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UNION CITY, Calif. -- Rajnikanth is such a badass that Chuck Norris is afraid of him. So goes the Internet lore of a 60-year-old South Indian screen icon so potent that fans build temples to him, women swoon and men just shrug and give up. "Rajni-sir" is the hero -- and villain -- of "Robot," which is being released simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu on a grand scale in India, though much more modestly, with zero fanfare, in the U.S. So though Rajnikanth is box-office magic in India, audiences in the States aren't likely to plug in.

Brilliant computer whiz Dr. Vasigaran (Rajnikanth) builds a perfect replica of himself, a super-robot he affectionately dubs Chitti. Dr. Vasi has noble plans of donating Chitti to the Indian army, but when Chitti suddenly develops feelings for Dr. Vasi's fiancee, Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), things get awkward. Throw in an evil mastermind (Danny Denzongpa) who reassembles the jealous Chitti into a killing machine called Chitti Version 2.0, and sparks fly -- literally.

"Robot," titled "Endhiran" in Tamil and "Robo" in Telugu, is being billed as the most expensive Indian film to date. So what does Sun Pictures get for its $40 million? The impressive talents of Rai Bachchan and a pulsating score by Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman, a lot of high-tech background visuals and truly unique location shooting: "Robot" is the first Bollywood film to feature a song "picturized" at the Unesco World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu, which might portend dire consequences for archaeology but looks damn cool onscreen.

The film's climactic battle scene drags, but that is a minor misstep. Writer-director S. Shankar has been working on getting this film made for the past decade, and he clearly is so thrilled to get "Robot" into theaters that his enthusiasm is infectious. Filmgoers with a taste for the absurd will be richly rewarded.

Opened Friday, Oct. 1 (B4U Pictures)
Production: Sun Pictures. Cast: Rajnikanth, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Danny Denzongpa, Santhanam, Karunas
Director-screenwriter: S. Shankar
Producers: Kalanithi Maran, Kishore Lulla
Executive producer: W. Hansraj Saxena
Director of photography: R. Rathnavelu
Choreographers: Prabhu Deva, Remo D'Souza, Raju Sunderam, Dinesh
Action director: Peter Hein
Production designer: Sabu Cyril
Music: A.R. Rahman
Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire
Costume designers: Manish Malhotra, Mary E. Vogt
Visual effects: Srinivas M. Mohan, Frankie Chang, Eddy Wong
Editor: Anthony
No rating, 155 minutes
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